Hand Pain Causes and Treatment Options

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Hand pain can have many causes because the hand is made up of many different parts. The bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves, skin, and other structures that help the hands do a wide range of tasks can also be sources of pain.

This article will go over the causes of hand pain. You'll also learn about how you can treat hand pain at home and when you should see a provider about hand pain.

hand pain causes

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Causes of Hand Pain

Hand pain can be caused by a variety of things, but there are a few conditions that are the most common causes of hand pain. Some of these conditions need medical treatment, while others can be managed on your own at home.

Arthritis Hand Pain

The hand is the part of the body where arthritis is most likely to develop, especially osteoarthritis, which is a normal part of the aging process.

Osteoarthritis happens when your joints lose cartilage. Most people over the age of 60 have signs of osteoarthritis in their hands. Some people develop hand arthritis at an earlier age.

The signs and symptoms of hand arthritis include:

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease of the hand. However, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can also affect the hands. RA is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack the lining of the joints.

Another kind of inflammatory arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, can also cause hand pain. It often causes swelling in the fingers (dactylitis or "sausage fingers").

Tendonitis or "Trigger Finger" Hand Pan

Tendonitis is inflammation within or around a tendon. It affects the way your hands and fingers move and causes pain and swelling. Tendonitis is caused by injuries (usually sharp, sudden movements) or repetitive movements.

Sometimes, tendons get hard lumps called nodules on them. You can feel these bumps through your skin.

The nodules can catch on other structures in the hand and make your finger "stick" when you try to move it. When the tendon releases, it causes a snapping sensation known as "trigger finger."

We're not sure what causes joint nodules in the hands but they are sometimes related to medical conditions such as RA and diabetes, or forceful movement of the fingers.

Hand Pain From a Ligament Injury

Your hand has 27 bones that are all connected by a network of connective tissue called ligaments, which let your hand move while keeping your joints stable.

Any trauma to your hands can injure one or more ligaments. If you hurt a ligament in your hand, it can make activities such as bending your fingers, gripping, or pinching hard or even impossible to do.

Ligament injuries in the hand can take months to heal. It's not uncommon for people to notice swelling and stiffness in their hands for a long time after they've injured a ligament.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Hand Pain

Several major nerves allow the hand to feel different sensations. When one of them is injured or compressed—for example, by inflammation—it can cause a lot of pain and make the hand not work as well.

The most common hand condition involving nerve compression is carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs with irritation or damage to the median nerve in the wrist.

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes hand pain that can be achy and sometimes "zingy," as well as tingling or numbness in the fingers and thumb.

Rubbing the inside of your wrist may cause tingling or electrical nerve sensations, as well. Pain can also go up your arm, and you may notice weakness or clumsiness.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often caused by repetitive stress, such as typing on a computer a lot, scanning groceries, or using a hammer.

A person's genetics and having conditions like RA, diabetes, and thyroid disease may also play a role in their risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Other nerves that go to the hand can also get pinched and cause symptoms. For example, when the ulnar nerve that runs behind your elbow joint is affected, it's called cubital tunnel syndrome.

Hand Pain From Injuries

It's very easy for the hands to get hurt. Injuries like bone fractures and muscle strains are common in the fingers and hands. Fingers get jammed into things and hands get slammed in doors or can even be stepped on during certain sports.

With many bones, joints, and muscles in a small space, the hand can get many types of breaks or strains. Each one has its own set of symptoms and effects on your ability to use your hands.

If you've hurt your hand and are in pain, you'll need to see a healthcare provider. They can find out what kind of injury you have and how serious it is. They will also make sure you get the right kind of treatment.

Ganglion Cyst Hand Pain

You have joints and tendon sheaths that normally contain fluid throughout your body, including in your hands. A ganglion cyst forms when fluid builds up in a pouch. It looks like a bump on your skin.

Ganglion cysts most often form in the wrist. They cause pain when they get in the way of normal movements of the joints and tendons.

Ganglion cysts are common in the hands for two reasons:

  • Hands have many joints and tendon sheaths where the cysts can form.
  • They're easy to see on the hands but can easily go unnoticed on other parts of the body.

The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown, but they're more common in females and adults under the age of 40. People whose wrists take a lot of strain—such as gymnasts—are especially likely to get ganglion cysts.

Rare Causes of Hand Pain

If you have hand pain, it's likely to be caused by something common that your provider can easily diagnose and treat.

That said, there are also some less common causes of hand pain—like tumors or bone infections—that a healthcare provider might want to rule out, especially if you've tried the usual treatments and they haven't helped.

Raynaud's Phenomenon Hand Pain

If you have Raynaud's phenomenon, your fingers have an unusually strong reaction to cold temperatures because your blood vessels are over-responsive.

Your fingers may turn blue or white when they get cold, then turn bright red when they warm up. You may also have a painful throbbing, tingling, or swelling in your hands.

Other parts that can be affected by Raynaud's syndrome include:

  • Ears
  • Nose
  • Nipples
  • Knees
  • Toes

In some cases, Raynaud's phenomenon is a symptom of another condition, like autoimmune or connective tissue disease, hypothyroidism, or fibromyalgia.

Sometimes, it's not known what makes the blood vessels behave abnormally in a person with Raynaud's.

Scleroderma Hand Pain

Scleroderma is a disease that causes the skin and other organs to harden. It most often affects the hands and face but can also be more widespread. It's also called systemic sclerosis.

One of the first symptoms of scleroderma is swollen, painful muscles and joints in the hands.

Scleroderma happens because of abnormalities in the immune system, connective tissues, and small blood vessels. However, the underlying cause of these changes is not known.

How Hand Pain Is Diagnosed

Healthcare providers can use different tools to find out what is causing your hand pain. Most of the time, they'll look at your hands and ask you about your symptoms, then decide what tests they need to do to make a diagnosis.

For example, if your provider wants a look at the structures inside your hand, they may want you to have:

Your provider can also do blood tests that look for signs of infection or inflammation, including:

How Hand Pain Is Treated

Most causes of hand pain can be easily taken care of, but you will need to see a provider. They can determine what treatment you need.

For example, some causes of hand pain, like injuries, require physical therapy or surgery. You may need to avoid moving your hand while it heals (for example, wearing a splint or cast).

Self Care for Hand Pain

If your hand pain is not caused by a severe problem that needs immediate medical attention, you can probably manage it at home. A few self-care tips for hand pain include:

  • Rest: A minor injury, overuse, or repetitive stress often gets better with rest because it gives the inflammation a chance to improve
  • Ice: Using an ice pack can help reduce inflammation and hand pain
  • Heat: Stiff joints and achy muscles are often soothed and loosened up by heat therapy

OTC Medication for Hand Pain

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) can relieve inflammation and hand pain. They are available over-the-counter (OTC).

Tylenol (acetaminophen) is another OTC pain reliever you might want to take for hand pain; however, it will not relieve inflammation like an NSAID, it will just help with the pain.

Medical Treatment for Hand Pain

Self-care and OTC medication won't be enough to treat some causes of hand pain. For more serious injuries or conditions, you may need:

  • Splints: A splint or brace can ease hand pain and prevent the inflammation from getting worse.
  • Prescription drugs: Some causes of hand pain can be treated with corticosteroid injections, oral steroids, prescription NSAIDs, or stronger pain medication like opioids.
  • Hand therapy: Hand therapists know many different ways to treat hand conditions that cause pain and prevent recurrences.
  • Treating underlying health conditions. If your hand pain is being caused by a full-body (systemic) condition like RA or scleroderma, getting that condition under control will often help your hand symptoms, too.

Surgery for Hand Pain

In some cases, you may need to have surgery for hand pain. Hand pain causes that may require surgery include:

When to See a Provider for Hand Pain

Most often, hand pain gets better with time and a few simple self-care strategies. However, there are more serious causes of hand pain that require medical treatment.

Call your provider if you have hand pain and:

  • Signs of infection (e.g., redness, fevers, and chills)
  • Deformity of the hand or fingers after an injury
  • Inability to bend the fingers or make a fist
  • Worsening numbness in the hands or fingers
  • Pain that does not get better with treatment


Hand pain can have many causes, many of which are common and can be managed at home. That said if the pain in your hands is affecting your life and making it hard for you to do your daily tasks, see your healthcare provider.

Your provider or a specialist like a rheumatologist or an orthopedist can figure out what is causing your hand pain and find the best way to treat it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What type of healthcare provider treats hand pain?

    If you have hand pain, it's best to start by making an appointment with your primary care provider.

    If necessary, they can refer you to a provider who specializes in joint and autoimmune conditions (rheumatologist) or a bone specialist (orthopedist).

  • Can diabetic neuropathy cause hand pain?

    Diabetic neuropathy can cause deep aching or stabbing pains in the hands as well as tingling, numbness, and burning.

    Pain medication can help, but it's also important to get your blood sugar under control.

19 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.